By Coco Newton, MPH, RD, CCN
Editor's Note: Writer Kirsten Mowrey's in-depth interview with Coco Newton is the cover story for our May through August 2015 issue (#60). In this follow up blog, Coco Newton elucidates another important aspect of her work: her collaborative effort with Judy Stone to have the Michigan licensure law repealed in 2014. She explains what this means for the professional practice of nutrition in Michigan, as well as the rights of the public to freely choose their nutritionist.
Picture this: Your nutrition practitioner can be criminally prosecuted for offering their services, just because they aren’t licensed by the state. This situation was nearly a reality in Michigan.
In a historic vote (July 1, 2014), the Michigan legislature repealed the Dietitians Licensure Law, and is the only state ever to have done so. Registered Dietitians (RD) would have had automatic licensure as Dietitians/Nutritionists. The licensure law would have prohibited non-RD nutrition practitioners from providing dietary and nutritional counseling.
It happened in North Carolina to my colleague and friend, Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN. Although she was a national educator, author, and owner of a very successful nutrition private practice, the NC Dietetics Board shut down her business. Next door to us in Ohio, the dietetics board is notorious for numerous legal actions and prosecutions against non-RD nutritionists. We certainly didn’t want these “witch hunts” taking place in Michigan.
Licensure laws are written for Registered Dietitians who are primarily trained for institutional care, and without formal training in personalized, functional, or integrative nutrition. Dietetic Licensure Laws are restrictive, exclusive, discriminatory, and anti-competitive. The laws are designed to serve one professional trade organization and their members, the American Dietetic Association (recently renamed Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics). Their goals are 3rd party payment and monopoly of the nutrition profession, although the purported goal is to protect the public from harm by “quacks.”
After decades of effort, Michigan RD’s passed a licensure law in 2006. I applied for appointment to the Michigan Board of Dietetics & Nutrition. During the rule making process, I worked to minimize the damage of the statute. Final approval of the rules was delayed, and thus enactment of the law.
In 2010, I co-founded the Michigan Nutrition Association (MNA). Judy Stone, CN, MSW (nutritionist and author), became the Executive Director, and she expertly guided MNA’s lobbying of legislators to make them aware of the negative ramifications of the law. She spearheaded the organization of our movement against enactment of the law in Michigan through coordinating cross-disciplinary healthcare professionals, businesses, and the public throughout the state and nationally. We hired a lobbyist to help us navigate state politics in Lansing.
In 2012, Governor Snyder commenced his program of Regulatory Reinvention to identify wasteful spending on professional regulation. My husband, Roger Newton (PhD Nutrition, and career in the pharmaceutical industry) was appointed to the Advisory Rules Committee in the Department of Licensing and Regulation. This committee determined that the dietetics law (along with some other licensure laws) was unnecessary for public protection, and detrimental to Michigan’s economy and public health. Subsequently, bills were introduced in the House and Senate to repeal the dietetics law, and the battle escalated between RD's versus non-RD nutrition practitioners.
We hired a new lobbyist from a top Lansing firm that was introduced to us by one of his relatives who supported our cause. Over a year later, many days of testimony, tens of thousands of letters to legislators, and lobbying by cross-disciplinary healthcare professionals, educational organizations, businesses, and citizens, our message was strong and clear. We won in both the House and Senate by a 2/3 non-partisan majority, and the Governor signed the repeal into law on July 1, 2014.
We won because the RD's couldn’t prove that they were superior in education, training, or practice. We won because there were no documented incidences of harm caused by unlicensed practitioners. We won because it was apparent that RD’s were more interested in turf protection, not public protection. We won because we demonstrated cross-disciplinary unification that provided supportive data on protecting jobs and public health. Above all, we stood for the freedom of the public to choose their healthcare practitioners.
Judy and I made for a very effective duo. As an RD with nothing to lose no matter how a vote went, I was able to explain to the legislators the truth about the monopolistic intentions of my own organization, the Michigan Dietetic Association. Judy, as a non-RD, was a target of the law, and she stood to lose her business. She represented everyone out there in a similar predicament with the law. Judy and I were able to provide a very balanced and realistic perspective.
On a personal note: As a Functional Nutritionist, I credit my professional development primarily to non-RD nutrition practitioners (and some great RD's too!) that have been my teachers and mentors. That’s why I opposed my RD colleagues in their pursuit for exclusive licensure. There is no one nutrition specialty that should own the field and practice of nutrition. I believe that various nutrition organizations and practitioners should work together for the common benefit of our citizens towards a healthier Michigan.
Coco is owner of Lifetime Nutrition, LLC, http://www.coconewton.com a private practice in Plymouth, Michigan, focused on the use of Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy (FMNT) in prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Coco championed the successful repeal of the Dietetics/Nutrition Licensure Law on July 1, 2014, the first repeal in the United States.